The “VatiLeaks” story is a matter serious enough to have merited the creation of a Vatican investigation committee requested by the Pope himself. Until that committee finishes its investigation and issues its report, there can be no official assessment of what is going on here. Clearly, someone — an official, a visitor, an employee, an office cleaner — has been taking internal Vatican documents out of Vatican desk drawers, or off Vatican desk-tops, and giving them to the media. The sense this gives is that virtually every Vatican document could possibly be accessed by the same person or persons. So there is concern at the highest levels of the Vatican about how and why this is happening.
Now, a key Vatican prelate whose own decision-making was, implicitly, called into question in some of the leaked letters, has given a long, fascinating interview on Italian television. It is the first time we have been able to observe in detail the Vatican’s thinking on this question. The interview was translated into English and posted on the internet by John Allen, Jr., of the National Catholic Reporter, and we use that text in what follows.
In the interview, the Vatican official, Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo argues that the leaks stem from a “strategy of confusion” intended to paint a picture of the Vatican as a “ship without a helmsman,” thereby undercutting the moral leadership of Pope
Lajolo was for a number of years the Vatican’s “foreign minister” and then, up until October 2011, he led the government of Vatican City State — the office where Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, today the Pope’s ambassador in the United States, held the number two role.
It was two confidential letters from Viganò to the Pope and to the secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, complaining of corruption and cronyism in the finances of Vatican City government, which triggered the recent avalanche of leaked documents.
Lajolo, 77, signed an unusual February 4 statement responding in detail to the charges contained in Viganò’s letters (unusual because, normally, no public response to such charges is made).
Now Lajolo has given the first extended interview a senior Vatican official has given on the leaks crisis, speaking to the Italian news outlet “Mediaset TGCOM24.”
With regard to Viganò’s complaints, Lajolo says that a “more careful and dispassionate examination” showed them to be “erroneous,” describing them as the product of a “wounded soul.”
More broadly, Lajolo says he believes the leaks stem from someone inside the Vatican who is “frustrated in his ambitions,” and are being exploited by forces “hostile to the Holy See and to the Catholic Church.”
Despite impressions that the leaks scandal has raised questions about the managerial competence of the current Vatican team,
Lajolo insists that the Roman Curia, “despite certain inevitable limits … functions in an excellent manner.”
(The following is the National Catholic Register’s translation of Lajolo’s interview with Mediaset TGCOM24.)
Your Eminence, is it true that there was a “heavy” climate during the period in which Archbishop Viganò held the role of secretary general?
Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo: It’s undeniable, and it’s also understandable. Archbishop Viganò saw himself unfairly placed in a bad light by some press reports, and he was deeply wounded. In searching for those responsible, he began with suspicions later revealed to be unfounded that put him on the wrong track, which led him to see his case as part of a bigger picture with a series of analyses that a more careful and dispassionate examination showed to be erroneous.
In my view, one can’t say that he was punished. The office of apostolic nuncio to the United States is a role of enormous prestige, which gives him the chance to give very good proof of himself.
Let’s analyze the accusations in his letters. The archbishop talks about exaggerated costs for the nativity set in St. Peter’s Square in 2008, which were dramatically reduced in 2008. How is that explained?
Lajolo: There’s no unjustifiable waste behind it.
First of all, the cost of the nativity set, which came to $723,000, included the installation of the Christmas tree and of numerous smaller nativity sets distributed throughout Vatican City. The technical services of the government, moreover, had provided a new mobile structure of wood and metal, a new lighting system, and had acquired new materials, mostly polystyrene, all of which were used for nativity sets in future years. Obviously these [nativity sets] cost less because we used the elements already acquired, and also because they were less architecturally complex and, moreover, notably smaller.
Also in a letter, Archbishop Viganò speaks of an operation in December 2009 in which two and a half million dollars were lost. Can you explain what happened?
Lajolo: I don’t understand the basis on which Archbishop Viganò makes the affirmation to which you refer. Probably it’s based on an unfavorable short-term fluctuation in exchange rates, but it doesn’t take account of the positive long-term evolution and of the yields acquired.
I can say, without any fear of being denied, that the Extraordinary Section of the Apostolic Patrimony of the Holy See, to which the financial investments of the government were entrusted in March 2009, realized a recovery of 24.6% in that year over the losses in 2008, partly thanks to the work of the Finance and Administration Committee I instituted in 2008. In truth, the final balance in 2009 was still in the red, because the Prefecture for Economic Affairs decided, in keeping with Italian dispositions, that part of the losses from 2008 were assigned to it. In 2010, the work of recovery continued, and the final balance of the government was amply in the black. That’s partly because of the fact that it was no longer weighed down by financial losses from 2008, and in particular thanks to the action of the Extraordinary Section of APSA and the earnings from the Vatican Museums.
In the documents, some contracts entrusted to the government are cited. Let’s talk about the one for the colonnade in St. Peter’s Square. Can you explain how that contract was awarded, and why the work has slowed down lately?
Lajolo: I awarded the contract for the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square in July 2008 to the company “Italian Constructions,” following a bidding process among six large firms that come from all over Italy, according to the evaluation expressed by a commission composed of six members, of whom two come from the outside. I set up that commission under the presidency of Bishop Giorgio Corbellini, at the time the vice secretary general of the government. The slow-down of the work in the past year was caused by the fact that the company had agreed to collect funds from sponsors, and it ran into difficulties, owing to the difficult overall national and international economic situation.
I don’t doubt that, in the more favorable situation that seems to be on the horizon, other sponsors can be found, and that the presidency of the government will be able to bring the work to completion in a timely fashion.
The letters of Archbishop Viganò are, anyway, just the tip of the iceberg. Many other documents have come out of the Vatican. What’s behind this Vatileaks?
Lajolo: Different interpretations are possible. For my part, I can’t avoid the impression that some employee of the curia, frustrated in his ambitions, believed that he could compensate by secretly producing a disturbance, and found somebody he knows in the media who was happy to profit by it. That all this is happening now, while the Church is preparing with commitment for the Year of Faith, is especially distasteful, but the faith will win.
But why do you think things got to this point?
Lajolo: To me, it appears that of all the important things Benedict XVI does – and he does a lot! – the most important is his commitment to the truth, in a society which appears not only resigned to, but convinced of, the idea that truth is not attainable, and is transforming that idea into an unquestionable dogma. It’s not only being legitimized, but imposed, as the foundation of a free society. The “strategy of confusion,” creating the erroneous belief that the Vatican is a ship without a helmsman, is aimed at discrediting the force of this great pontifical message and of the government of the Church, distracting attention from its positive aspects and focusing on episodes which are certainly distasteful but only occasional and marginal. But, it won’t succeed.
Is it possible that someone is trying to undercut the operation of “cleansing” that Benedict XVI has put into motion?
Lajolo: I don’t think this is the aim of whoever has criminally released these confidential documents. I think there are other forces in action, hostile to the Holy See and to the Catholic Church.
I’d like to add that the clean-up operation requested by the Holy Father is a deep work of cleansing, above all interior and spiritual. This work will continue.
However, we shouldn’t have any illusions. Among the apostles, there was also Judas Iscariot. It shouldn’t be any wonder if, in the Church, there are now and always will be persons who don’t have the spirit of Christ. For the rest, the Church isn’t made up only of saints (and there are saints), but also of sinners, which the Church never stops calling to holiness.
Some even talk about the “smoke of Satan in the Vatican,” some (agents) of Masonry at work …
Lajolo: Truthfully, if I remember correctly, Paul VI spoke of “the smoke of Satan which has entered through some crack in the Church” on June 29, 1972; he didn’t mention the Vatican, even if, certainly, his words did not exclude some environments of the Church. One can’t exclude the malice and the active presence of the “father of lies,” as Our Lord defined the devil; however, to explain certain phenomena, malice and the lack of human intelligence are enough. It’s not necessary to fall back on demonic action.
Are there divisions at work within the Vatican walls?
Lajolo: That there are in the Church, and even within the Holy See, different and even opposing evaluations of practical questions is not, in itself, anything evil or sinful. It’s part of a legitimate quest for what’s best, on the part of responsible people.
What’s not legitimate, however, is that this diversity is given irresponsible publicity and is consequently interpreted as a “power struggle.” There are exchanges that have to remain confidential, above all out of respect for the persons involved, so they can express their thinking in complete freedom, and also to protect the serenity of these exchanges and to avoid distasteful and unfair disturbances in public opinion, above all among the faithful.
It’s said that the government of the Church is shaky. In your view, is the guidance of the Pope and of his secretary of state firm?
Lajolo: Why should anyone think that the government of the Church is shaky? Because some confidential documents were published? That could happen in any moment of any papacy. Further, what did these confidential documents reveal? I think the most serious accusations were those contained in the letters of Archbishop Viganò, which formulate some very negative analyses; but, as I’ve already said, those analyses were shaped by a wounded soul.
For the rest, all you have to do is follow the mass of commitments that characterize every day for Benedict XVI, and his interventions in every field, which are always highly lucid, in order to understand that the rudder of the Church is in safe hands — a calm hand, with a paternal soul, without agitation or polemics.
As far as the secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, he justifiably enjoys the full faith of the Pope. Cardinal Bertone leads his office, which is complex and heavy, with great humanity and a Salesian pastoral sensibility, which some, unfortunately, just aren’t capable of understanding.
Anyway, I’d like to remind those with a short memory of the judgments that some gave of previous Popes, and also of the unforgettable Cardinal Casaroli, secretary of state, during their lifetimes. Those judgments weren’t much more benevolent than those diffused now by certain press outlets, but they were inevitably corrected by history.
For my part, based on what I know from my curial experience, I’m convinced that the Roman Curia overall, despite certain inevitable limits, is an organ of government and of the Holy Father’s leadership of the universal Church that functions in an excellent manner.